Movie Review: Winnie Mandela

By Stephen Rebello

<p>Darrell Roodt's biopic, starring Jennifer Hudson, feels too much like a made-for-TV movie.<br></p>

Director: Darrell Roodt

Rating: R

Studio: Equinoxe Films

Stars: Jennifer Hudson, Terrence Howard, Wendy Crewson

Winnie Mandela, directed by Darrell J. Roodt from a screenplay credited to Roodt and Andre Pieterse, is a TV movie–style, slapped-together gloss on the controversial life of the firebrand antiapartheid warrior and ex-wife of Nelson Mandela.

With star Jennifer Hudson giving the title character every ounce of the power, charisma and conviction most of the rest of the movie lacks, we’re fed rushed bits of Mandela’s life as the cultured, scrappy child of a rural village schoolteacher and her early youth, during which she turned down a scholarship to study in the U.S. to instead be a pioneering social worker to the needy people of Soweto. In Johannesburg, she catches the eye of impassioned, politically fearless antiapartheid crusader Nelson (Terrence Howard, vivid but underused). They wed and become a formidable duo, refusing to be silent about racial injustice, defiantly unwilling to knuckle under to such stereotypically portrayed racist goons as an Afrikaner cop (Elias Koteas), a composite figure who contributes to their relentless oppression and to their eventual devastating imprisonments, Nelson receiving a life sentence for treason, Winnie a 500-day confinement in solitary.

The problems with the movie—typified by music choices like “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” the shaky accents of the two leading actors and Hudson’s astonishing and sometimes campy array of costume changes are enormous. But, worst of all, the film skirts all the negative aspects of its subject; we get no scenes of our heroine’s deplorable stint as the leader of a goon squad who later confessed before a commission to “the murder, torture, abduction and assault of numerous men, women and children.” That kind of reality doesn’t play well on Lifetime, so instead the makers of Winnie Mandela give us a great subject all Photoshopped and tarted up with Hollywood-style sheen.


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